15 Tantalizing True Crime Documentaries on Netflix to Stream in 2018

true crime documentaries on netflix

Once considered to be sleazy amidst its association with Victorian “penny dreadfuls,” the now wildly popular true crime genre got its start somewhere between 1550 and 1700 when British printers produced copious amounts of publications reporting on capital crimes and trials.

From the breadth of literature released in the wake of Lizzie Borden’s “trial of the century” to O.J. Simpson’s monumental court proceedings a century later, it’s clear this genre has staying power even as it evolves over the years. The modern landscape of the genre—now saturated to the core with TV shows, feature-length documentaries and podcasts—is another reminder of just how much these true-to-life thrillers have caught our collective attention.

Modern true crime documentaries have entered into a new era in which the quality is seemingly unmatched. The works released within the genre today are technically proficient, narratively sophisticated, forensically detailed, visually mesmerizing and often boast soundtracks worthy of their own notoriety.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the public’s collective enthrallment.

Tap into your inner investigator and join us as we highlight some of the most mind-bending true crime documentaries you can stream instantly on Netflix.

15 Daring documentaries to feed your true crime addiction

If you’re a bona fide true crime junkie, you’ve likely already marked the usual suspects off your “To Watch” list—titles like Netflix’s own Making a Murderer, HBO’s The Jinx and Errol Morris’ groundbreaking Thin Blue Line. As you seek out the next gripping story that will haunt your thoughts for days to come and send you down a multitude of internet rabbit holes, consider the following 15 can’t-miss documentaries.

1.    The Staircase

Year released: 2005 / 2013 / 2018

Duration: 13 episodes

What to expect: The Staircase first aired in the U.S. in 2005 with each episode outlining different aspects of the murder trial of Michael Peterson, accused of causing the untimely death of his second wife, Kathleen. Offering viewers unprecedented access to discussions and strategy sessions with Peterson’s undoubtedly expensive team of defense lawyers, this true crime documentary series has released new two- or three-episode installments as the case develops in real-time. More than a decade removed from its original release date, viewers are still left puzzling over the series’ core question: Was it an accident or murder?

2.    The Confession Tapes

Year released: 2017

Duration: 7 episodes

What to expect: Dually dubbed 2017’s most important and most frustrating true crime series, The Confession Tapes uses its seven episodes to analyze six cases that are stained with a phenomenon many deem incomprehensible: false confessions. The series digs into all the usual suspects in cases marred by false confession—things like multi-hour interrogation sessions, investigators who fall victim to tunnel vision and prosecutors who are focused on securing a conviction at all costs. What seems on its surface to be a run-of-the-mill true crime docuseries transforms instead into a scathing indictment of the flaws in our criminal justice system.

3.    Long Shot

Year released: 2017

Duration: 40min

What to expect: If you don’t have time to binge-watch the true crime shows on your list, a documentary like Long Shot is perfect for you. This bite-sized true crime feature tells a tale of fortunate happenstance, pointing toward larger discussions regarding the credibility of eyewitness testimony, the requirements of a solid alibi and the importance of innovative investigative efforts. Chronicling a story Larry David claims to share when he hopes to impress a date, learn whether or not an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm actually cleared an alleged killer of first-degree murder charges.

4.    A Murder in the Park

Year released: 2014       

Duration: 1h 31min

What to expect: A Murder in the Park details the case that led to the suspension of capital punishment in the state of Illinois: Two teenagers were murdered in a Chicago park in 1982, a man named Anthony Porter was indicted for the double-slaying and he spent 15 years on death row before being exonerated with the help of a Northwestern University journalism professor and a classroom full of students. By the end of the film, a new man is behind bars for the crime, but just as many questions remain.

5.    Evil Genius

Year released: 2018

Duration: 4 episodes

What to expect: Evil Genius invites viewers into the circle of speculation surrounding the high-profile and extremely complex “Collar Bomb” case circa 2003 in Erie, Pennsylvania. As more and more details emerge, the case becomes increasingly bizarre—from a botched bank heist and the death of an on-duty pizza delivery driver to alleged jailhouse confessions and a game of “He said, she said” that leaves many viewers still puzzling over the identity of the true criminal mastermind, Evil Genius became a viral success almost instantly.

6.    The Seven Five

Year released: 2014

Duration: 1h 44min

What to expect: Transporting viewers back to East New York in the late 1980s, The Seven Five chronicles the 75th Precinct of the NYPD at a time when it was the deadliest in the country. It was during that time when corrupt police officer, Michael Dowd, acted as something of a ringleader to a crew of dirty cops who padded their income by stealing money, guns and drugs from dealers they encountered on the street. The documentary is a collage of reenactments, clips of Dowd’s testimony before a police-commissioned investigative panel and recent interviews with the key players, including Dowd’s own candid and downright brazen recollections of his crimes.

7.    The Hunting Ground

Year released: 2015

Duration: 1h 43min

What to expect: From the same director-producer duo that brought us the 2012 examination of sexual assault in the U.S. military, The Invisible War, comes The Hunting Ground—a documentary film that focuses on the problem of sexual assault on college campuses across America. This hard-hitting film recounts instances of campus-related sexual assault from the vantage point of the victims, including an overwhelming amount of inaction on the part of the colleges and universities involved.

8.    Strong Island

Year released: 2017

Duration: 1h 47min

What to expect: A 2018 Oscar nominee for “Best Documentary Feature,” Strong Island follows the 1992 murder of an African-American schoolteacher and its aftermath on Long Island. Twenty-four-year-old William Ford Jr. was disputing the quality of some car repairs at a local auto body shop when the employee he was arguing with fatally shot him in the chest. This true crime documentary invites viewers to journey through the inner workings of the case and the moral underpinnings of its eventual outcome.

9.    Amanda Knox

Year released: 2016

Duration: 1h 32min

What to expect: O.J. Simpson, Jodi Arias, Casey Anthony—these have become household names since the world was captivated by their very public murder trials. The name Amanda Knox belongs in their company. This Netflix true crime documentary takes a focused look at the investigation into the 2007 murder of a young British exchange student with whom Knox was living at the time. Through pointed interviews, viewers learn how the media circus surrounding this international case took an insurmountable toll on the lives of those involved as they explore whether or not justice was ever actually served.

10.  The Witness

Year released: 2015

Duration: 1h 29min

What to expect: In The Witness, Bill Genovese is a man on a mission as he reexamines the 1964 murder of his older sister, Kitty. When the 29-year-old was killed on a quiet street in Queens in the middle of the night, it quickly became a nationwide sensation. The media reported that an alarming 38 witnesses stood by from their apartment windows with not one phoning the police or trying to help in any way—something that became a widely noted, yet flawed example of the indifference shown by city-dwellers. Genovese tracks down several of these witnesses in this quiet but powerful film, examining the moral purpose of a witness, the unyielding power of the media and the culture of New York in the 60s.

11.  The Fear of 13

Year released: 2015

Duration: 1h 36min

What to expect: Filmed in a style some liken to that of legendary crime documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris, The Fear of 13 offers a telling of the completely over-the-top—yet entirely true—story of Nick Yarris. At just 20 years old in 1981, he was brought into custody after an explosive interaction with a police officer during a traffic stop. Before he knew it, Yarris was charged with an entirely separate crime: the abduction, rape and murder of a woman he’d never met. This film lends him a platform from which to tell his story. From 20 years spent on death row to a successful prison escape and an eventual exoneration, The Fear of 13 tells the story of a case that is truly “stranger than fiction.”

12.  Team Foxcatcher

Year released: 2016

Duration: 1h 30min

What to expect: Recounting the true, behind-the-scenes details of the story that inspired the 2014 biopic, Team Foxcatcher combines archival home-movie footage with modern-day interviews as it reveals the events surrounding Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz’s murder at the hand of billionaire John Du Pont. Viewers get a front-row seat to the mental deterioration of a lonely, self-styled wrestling coach who was so desperate for acceptance by the world-class athletes he surrounded himself with, he’d take any measure to preserve it—including fatal force.

13.  I Am Jane Doe

Year released: 2017

Duration: 1h 38min

What to expect: Lauded as simultaneously sobering, sickening and bluntly effective, I Am Jane Doe takes viewers on a deep dive into the hard-to-stomach world of child sexual exploitation and its lifelong impact on survivors. The film centers largely on the use of Backpage.com, a site boasting classified bulletin boards often used, among other purposes, to advertise services of sex workers. Follow along as a group of young Jane Does share their stories as a part of a hard-wrought legal quest to hold the website accountable.  

14.  The Life & Death of Marsha P. Johnson

Year released: 2017

Duration: 1h 45min

What to expect: Marsha P. Johnson is something of a legend, often cited as “the Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement” after having played a pivotal role in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and co-creating the world’s first trans-rights organization, STAR, in 1970. The Life & Death of Marsha P. Johnson follows crime victim advocate, Victoria Cruz, as she reexamines Johnson’s mysterious 1992 death. When her body was discovered in the Hudson River, Johnson’s death was initially ruled as a suicide; it has since been shrouded in mystery.

15.  Shadow of Truth

Year released: 2016

Duration: 4 episodes

What to expect: If you have the patience for subtitles, Shadow of Truth is a must-watch. Subtitled in English from its native language of Hebrew, this film transports viewers to Katzrin, Israel where, in 2006, 13-year-old Tair Rada lost her life after a violent encounter with a killer in her middle school bathroom. From intimate interviews to taped interrogations, the expertly navigated documentary will launch you onto an “Emotional and psychological seesaw,” as it is filled to the brim with unexpected twists. Shadow of Truth is strung together with a plotline that is all too familiar in true crime narratives: investigators who hold their pride in higher esteem than the quest to find justice.

From the screen to the real-life scene

As you settle onto your couch for a night of binge-watching Netflix, consider these 15 true crime documentaries—titles that are certain to provoke critical thought over evidence, witness testimonies, botched investigations, wrongful convictions and the true impact media coverage can have on the outcome or perception of a criminal case.

If you’re the type who’s always ready for a new, confounding case to examine, you might consider taking your investigative nature beyond your true crime guilty pleasure and actually turning it into a career! You can learn more about your options by reading our article, “Private Investigator vs. Police Detective: Making the Case.” 


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.

Jess Scherman

Jess is a Content Specialist at Collegis Education. She researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College to help empower students to achieve their career dreams through higher education.

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